Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet

Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet

I first “met” Chief Crowfoot when we took three grandchildren camping from Idaho into Montana and Canada.  Although Chief Crowfoot died in 1890, Hugh Dempsey’s biography brings him to life for me.  I’ve been re-reading the biography and remembering our travel.

Chief Crowfoot lived in Alberta, Canada, but we began learning about the Blackfeet (alternatively Blackfoot) plains Indians in Browning, Montana.  The Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning is small enough so our 10 to 13-year-old grandchildren weren’t bored, but we have returned in subsequent years to enjoy the art, artifacts, and cultural displays.   Picnic tables on the grounds are a bonus.

With the grandchildren, we spent a night at the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village.  We had our first taste of pemmican; we adults liked it, but the grandchildren didn’t.   We slept in a tipi where Curly Bear Wagner , an Indian historian and tribal story teller, told us stories of Napi and the Creator.  Curly Bear has since passed away.

Biography of Chief Crowfoot.
A brave and honorable chief who did his best to guide his people peacefully through a time of cultural destruction and starvation.

In December 1874 Crowfoot first met James Farquharson Macleod*, assistant commissioner of the NWMP, and the two became friends. It was largely through their influence that white settlement in Blackfoot territory occurred without violence. Macleod insisted that Blackfoot rights be respected, while Crowfoot encouraged his people to maintain friendly relations with the police. Although he was actually one of two head chiefs of the Blackfoot tribe, the police considered him to be the leader of the entire Blackfoot nation. In fact, the Bloods were a larger tribe than the Blackfeet and all three tribes in the confederacy had independent leadership, but the confusion between “Blackfoot tribe” and “Blackfoot nation” – which included the Blood, Piegan, and Blackfoot tribes and their allies the Sarcees and the Gros Ventres – as well as Crowfoot’s impressive role as diplomat and politician, often caused whites to place him in a position that he did not in fact occupy. Crowfoot, for his part, was careful to consult his fellow chiefs in such situations.

Hugh A. Dempsey

Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfeet, is a good introduction to a part of history that wasn’t well covered in our school days, and an enjoyable introduction to a man of integrity, courage, and good sense.

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